In a regional multi-stake conference beamed in from Salt Lake City this month, Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke about his experience on board a cruise ship. He talked about the fine accommodations, food and entertainment available to the participants. However, one of the nightly shows was deemed to be too risqué, so he and his wife left the performance. He noted that this episode had relevance in the church experience. Just because one of the events on board the ship didn’t meet with their satisfaction, they didn’t jump off the boat. In a similar vein, he stated that just because something doesn’t go the way we expect in our church experience, we should not abandon the Mormon mother ship. His message to the listeners in this conference was repeated several times: Don’t get off the ship; it will take you to many venues and complete its journey.
I assume that message was prompted by the number of members who are leaving the church. Is this true for the 64 stakes involved in this regional conference or is this message going out to the broader church?
As I pondered his comments, I decided that the analogy of the ship and a cruise is relevant but I don’t think he took the idea far enough. A cruise will take you and its passengers to many destinations but will not be able to carry you to past the port. In other words, a cruise ship to Rome won’t get you to the Coliseum. To accomplish that objective, one must get off the ship and proceed on their own to the chosen venue.
In a similar manner, the church can only take you so far before you have to put on your walking shoes and move under your own power. Elder Eyring, later in the same conference, noted that no apostle, stake president, or bishop can save a person; this must be accomplished by the individual.
While the church can get us close to the destination and provide instructions on how to complete the journey, it does not have the power to carry each of us to the final objective. The fundamental purpose of the church is to teach us how to come unto Christ. It is not the end but a means to an end. We must each learn to ‘walk by faith’ and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives. No leader from the president of the church down to the local bishop can carry us to that final destination – our personal sanctification. We must accomplish this under our own power.
In the definition of the gospel given by Christ to the Nephites found in Third Nephi, chapter 27, we read:
18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;
If our ultimate goal is to ‘stand spotless’ before Christ, we are instructed to apply this gospel in our lives. We are told we must repent and come unto Christ. We are to be baptized and receive a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, which sanctifies us in preparation for the presence of our Redeemer.
The purpose of those who guide this church, I believe is found in D&C 19:
31 And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.
32 Behold, this is a great and the last commandment which I shall give unto you concerning this matter; for this shall suffice for thy daily walk, even unto the end of thy life.
The more the leadership of the church tries to go beyond this simple admonition, the less effective they will be. Instead of telling us ‘Don’t get off the ship,’ the message should be ‘here are the things you need to know so that you can be prepared to leave the ship and finish your journey under your own power.’
Both Paul (Philippians 2:12) and Mormon (Mormon 9:27) told us that we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, or as I would suggest, a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The more that church correlation and programs detract from this objective, the less relevant the church becomes.
So… my message is simple. Use the church as a vehicle to bring you closer to your ultimate destination, but at the same time, prepare to leave the ship and move forward on your own.
What think ye?
As I again read the story of the 2060 sons of Helaman, I was lead to ponder an aspect to the story I hadn’t considered before. We read in verse 21:
“Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.”
What does it mean to ‘perform every word of command with exactness’ and what is the message to us?
As I pondered this question, I came to the idea that the Lord expects us to be exact in our performance also. It is what He expects from those who wish to be called by His name. We are given direction and are expected to do no more and no less.
There are a number of places in the scriptures where the Lord tells us to be exact in our performance. One of the examples can be found in Third Nephi, chapter 18, where Christ institutes the ordinance of the sacrament among the Nephites. The Lord lays out specific aspects as to the administration and performance of this sacred ordinance and then states:
“12 And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall
always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.
13 But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.”
Do we, in the church, perform this ordinance with exactness? Do we ‘do these things’ as directed by the Lord? The Lord designated one of the disciples who would be responsible for the administration of this ordinance. Do we follow this or pass it on to any number of teenagers in the church? Did He in this passage give us a pass card on using wine, even if we have the ability to produce our own? If we want to be built on the ‘rock of Christ,’ the passage above tells us we must be precise in our treatment of the sacrament.
In His first visit among the Nephites, the Lord reasserted His doctrine. In the eleventh chapter of Third Nephi, beginning in verse 31, Christ states, ‘I will declare unto you my doctrine.’ He then proceeds to lay out a treatment of His doctrine, which, in my opinion, is a summary of the same doctrine of Christ found in Second Nephi, chapters 31 and 32. This presents a doctrine that one must be baptized and be visited ‘with fire and with the Holy
Ghost.’ It teaches us that we must become as a little child to inherit the kingdom of God. Christ completes the instruction on His doctrine with these words:
“39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.”
Again, the message is that to be built upon His rock, we must not do more or less than what is defined here as His doctrine. Do we find ourselves today ‘built upon His rock?’ Do the doctrines of the church called by his name stick to this simple formula, or have we added many other things to the mix? What would you consider as doctrine that goes above and beyond this straightforward definition of His doctrine?
Another place where the Lord declares His doctrine is found in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 10:
“67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.”
In this scripture, the Lord defines His church as those who repent and come unto Him. Again, he states that we are to follow this ‘with exactness.’ No more and no less. Do we follow this today? Do we expect members of the church to follow the word of wisdom? Do we prescribe that members must sustain men as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do we task them with paying fast offerings and tithing as conditions of full membership? Has the church that bears His name broadened its focus to include insurance companies, real estate development, and other works of men? Are we following this direction from the Lord with exactness?
Do we fill our spiritual lives today with things that go beyond what the Lord prescribes? Each of us must make our own way and find our own answers to these questions. Our spiritual foundation should not be built upon the sandy soil of going beyond the mark. We, individually and collectively, need to assess our compliance, with exactness, to the commandments of the Lord.
What think ye?